I remember when I was a 13-year-old girl in Lublin, Poland. It was 1942, and I was standing outside with my mother when she looked up at the sky and remarked, “such a beautiful world, and there is no place for us in it.”
By us, she meant the Jews of Europe.
I can still recall the terrible sensation her words stirred in me. It was the same feeling I had listening to the adults discuss politics when I was younger, when they didn’t think I was nearby. I don’t know how much I understood when they talked about Hitler, but I had an acute perception that something was very wrong.
It was the same feeling I experienced when my mother pushed me off the road leading our family, and so many others, on a forced deportation to our deaths at the hand of the Nazis. She told me how important it was that I survive, and how she believed that if I lived, she would continue to live on, through me. Then she threw all our belongings onto the road and and told me to flee to save my life.
It was a moment of terror, as if the world was coming to an end.
I have a very similar feeling right now.
Of course, it’s impossible to compare this global pandemic to genocide. As Jews we were marked, targeted for death. In contrast, this virus picks whoever it feels like hitting; people of all faiths and backgrounds, all over the world. This is a very different sort of horror: this time, we are all potential targets, and we are all in the same boat together.
So what does this mean? Is there anything we can learn from one nightmare, to help us get through another?
At almost 91 years old, I am not frightened for myself. I don’t mean that I am willing to walk into the lion’s den; I watch myself and take precautions like everyone else. But, thanks to my mother’s wisdom and courage, the compassion of the Polish family that aided in my survival, and the wonderful country of Canada that took me in and gave me a chance to live, I have had a life of peace and happiness. I am so grateful.
But for my children, my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, for all young people and for the future of the entire world, I worry. It is very hard to separate from the people we love. It is hard to live with fear in the pit of your stomach. It is hard to watch the numbers on the news every night. It is hard for me to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Holocaust in solitude, without my family, friends and fellow survivors to celebrate by my side.
But this is what we must all do if we are to outlast the pandemic. Like everyone else muddling through these difficult days, I try to get some fresh air, play games on the computer, and read a lot. And, although this year’s program will be far different than those in the past, I plan to show my solidarity by watching the 75th anniversary Holocaust remembrance commemoration online together with other survivors, Jewish communities and Canadians all across the county.
If my age confers any wisdom at all, the most important advice I can offer is to counsel patience. We must continue doing what we have been doing for as long as it takes, because short-term social isolation will benefit us all in the long run. We simply have to endure, with confidence that this horrible pandemic will eventually be defeated.
I know better than most people that darkness and misery don’t last forever. Today, as I write this, the sun is shining, and I feel certain that health and joy will soon make a comeback. Let’s all stay safe as we await their return.
Rose Lipszyc survived the Holocaust by living under a false identity. She and her two aunts were the only members of her family to survive. She is a speaker at UJA’s Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre, and was featured in the Canadian History Channel’s 2019 documentary “Cheating Hitler: Surviving the Holocaust.”
On Monday, April 20 at 7:00pm EDT, Canadians from across Canada commemorated the 75th anniversary of liberation. If you missed the live viewing, the program is available through Monday, April 27 here.
Photo: Rose Lipszyc at the film premiere of "Cheating Hitler," November 2019. Focal Cadence / Sara Cornthwaite for the Neuberger.